Traditional Irish Music
In the liner notes to his new album “Box Sets,” button accordionist John Redmond relates a story about going home to County Wexford to decompress after breaking his collarbone. Inspired by his rambles away, he resolved to “write an album that would reflect my love for the area and my family who all still live there.” “Box Sets” is the fruit of that time. On it, Redmond has transformed his intriguing concept into a wonderfully realized whole that trad fans will enjoy.
Born in Ballinadaggin, near Enniscorthy, Redmond got his start under the tutelage of the Wexford-born (and now transplanted New Yorker) accordionist and fiddler Tom Dunne. Redmond grew up mostly as a competition player and has four All-Ireland titles – three solo – under his belt to show for it. However, all that changed once he came to New York, as it’s here that he began to expand his repertory, stretch out musically, and cut his teeth in the session scene.
After many years on the ground here, playing at places like the Scratcher (209 East 5th St.), the old O’Neill’s (45th and 3rd), and as a member of the band Morning Star with singer/guitarist Mary Courtney and banjoist Donie Ryan (among other endeavors), he released his critically esteemed solo debut, “East to Northeast,” in 2011. Today, Redmond is most commonly found co-leading the Saturday night session at Niall’s on 52nd (218 East 52nd St.) with fiddler Bernadette Fee and guitarist Dave Fahy. It’s been his main musical home since 2013.
If you’re a patron of Niall’s on 52nd, you’re likely familiar with the brilliant, high energy music Redmond & co. are known for. It’s also likely that you’d be familiar with many of the tunes that appear on this album, as they’re all Redmond originals. Music lovers will find these tunes intriguing, as they all sound very “trad” in fashion and seem to have the “scent of turf” about them that distinguishes the more interesting newly composed tunes from the others.
And the music is lovely. Some of his tunes contain little cues that make them quite distinctive. I think, for example, of the crooked note in the b-section of the reel “The Low Ditch,” the hitch at the beginning of the melody of the jig “McGurk’s Wall,” and the alternating ascending bit toward the end of the b-section of “The Moats of Craan” jig as good examples of this. Others, like “The Rooftop” reel, the polka “Mother’s Brown Bread,” and the jig “The Bee Frame” have a smooth, expressive – but also danceable – lyricism that eludes other composers.
Redmond’s also included a couple of great waltzes, “Kathy’s” and “The Horseshoe.” While the former lopes along with a buoyant grace, the latter takes a darker, more brooding tune. Both are easy to appreciate and waltz lovers will be immediately drawn to them. Another nice track is “Looking Toward Vinegar Hill,” a lovely, slow tune that includes sweet Hammond B3 organ backing. It’s very ballad-y in its conception (it sounds like there are words hiding in the melody!) and it gives the album a bit of extra variety.
The performances are strong throughout. Redmond’s playing is great, as is that of his backers, Alan Murray (guitar, bouzouki), Lisa Campbell Albert (piano), and Vince Corkery & Kevin Buckley (Hammond B3). Moreover, they’d paid the music the great compliment of putting the tunes first via beautiful, uncomplicated arrangements. It’s well done.
Redmond is a powerful, insightful box player and “Box Sets” is full of simply beautiful music – a stunning and evocative love letter to John’s friends and family, and to the world around him. His tunes have a freshness about them that makes them distinct, but the stark setting into which he’s put them on this album gives them the imprimatur of age and experience. Good stuff throughout! "Box Sets" is available through CD Baby, and wherever fine traditional music is sold.
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